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Kansas-Texas hoops battle looms; what makes Longhorns different from last year?

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In trying to gauge how much of a threat the University of Texas basketball team will pose to Kansas University's six straight Big 12 titles, it would be easy to look at UT's 3-0 conference start this season and think, 'same story, different year.'

Remember last season? Texas started 17-0 and climbed to No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. The Longhorns began Big 12 play 3-0 last season as well. They ended the season, however, with a catastrophic nosedive into irrelevance. Texas finished 7-10 the rest of the way, with a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament. To think the Longhorns will have another letdown in the second half of this season would be to seriously undermine the differences from last year that coach Rick Barnes' 2010-11 squad has displayed.

No. 2 Kansas will take on No. 10 Texas at 3 p.m. on Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse in the Big 12 regular season game of the year. My reason for the billing of high expectations: Texas looks a whole lot different than last season.

The main differences:

• Sophomore Jordan Hamilton is not playing like he did last season, when he took ill-advised shots that made you play an over/under guessing game on the amount of sprints Barnes had in store for him the next day in practice.

This season, the 6-foot-7 guard/forward looks like a more polished player. I'll estimate 75 percent of our KUsports.com regular hoops commenters saw part of the Texas-Texas A&M game Wednesday night. Hamilton went off for 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting. When he hoisted threes, he was open. When he put up two-pointers, he was under control. In fact, he didn't miss a shot from inside the arc (7-of-7) all night. Hamilton also nailed 4-of-4 free throws and grabbed eight boards.

Barnes has rewarded Hamilton for his offseason improvement with 10 more minutes per game and a starting spot for all 18 of UT's games this season. Hamilton didn't start any games last season. The one-year difference is rather startling:

Points per game 2009-10: 10
Points per game 2010-11: 19.7

Rebounds per game 2009-10: 3.7
Rebounds per game 2010-11: 7.1

Assists per game 2009-10: 1.5
Assists per game 2010-11: 2.3

Field-goal percentage 2009-10: .410 (.365 from three-point range)
Field-goal percentage 2010-11: .474 (.424 from three-point range)

Free-throw percentage 2009-10: .578
Free-throw percentage 2010-11: .725

You get the idea.

This is a completely different player. Hamilton, along with KU's Marcus Morris, are my two front-runners to this point for Big 12 player of the year.

• Barnes couldn't figure out a consistent rotation last season, when eight players averaged at least 19 minutes per game. This year, only five players average at least 19 minutes per game. Roles are more clearly defined. For example:

(1) Point guard/offensive facilitator: Cory Joseph
(2) Defensive specialist: Dogus Balbay
(3) Primary scorer: Jordan Hamilton
(4) Glue/hustle guy: Gary Johnson
(5) Legitimate inside presence on offense/defense, shot blocker: Tristan Thompson
Sixth man: J'Covan Brown

• Freshmen Thompson and Joseph sparked the Longhorns immediately upon their arrival on the court. Texas seems to have better chemistry this season with the Canada natives in the starting lineup. Odd, considering the Longhorns had seniors Damion James, Dexter Pittman and Justin Mason last season. Again, though, roles were up in the air and with eight to 10 players getting consistent playing time, rhythm was hard to find on a game-to-game basis.

Joseph, who has drawn comparisons to former UT guard D.J. Augustin, has given the Longhorns a steady point guard and facilitator, a missing component from last season. A solid point guard seems to be imperative with Barnes' best teams. T.J. Ford led Texas to a Final Four in 2003, while Augustin was the floor general for the 2008 Elite Eight team.

Thompson is incredibly active in the paint. He leads the Big 12 in offensive rebounds and ranks second in blocked shots per game. He plays at a seemingly bigger size than his actual height of 6-8 because of his long arms.

• Texas can flat-out defend. The Longhorns, according to stat wizard Ken Pomeroy, are the second-best team in the country when it comes to effective field goal percentage defense (holding opponents to 40.7 percent). Kansas, for reference, isn't half bad either, ranking fourth in the country in Pomeroy's rankings at 42 percent.

Combining these factors, Texas has the look of a team that could seriously threaten KU's 69-game home win streak, best in the country by a long shot.

KU defensive assignments?

When mulling over the potential matchups for Saturday, Hamilton, at the 3-spot, presents an interesting challenge for KU's typical starting lineup.

At 6-7, Hamilton appears too tall for starting KU guards Tyshawn Taylor (6-3), Tyrel Reed (6-3) or Josh Selby (6-2).

That leaves Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris. Marcus is certainly athletic enough to draw the Hamilton assignment, but I'd think KU coach Bill Self would want the 6-9 forward playing inside against Gary Johnson. Ditto to Markieff and Tristan Thompson, which should be a monster encounter.

What do you think? Should KU stick one of its usual starting guards on Hamilton, or bench one of them in favor of a taller option, like 6-4 Brady Morningstar, who did a superb job on Monday defensively against Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn?

Saturday's game in Lawrence should provide can't-miss entertainment between the two best teams in the Big 12 this season. Barnes has Texas in a familiar position again, after a disappointing last season, of challenging Kansas for the Big 12 title.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.

Comments

Danny Hernandez 11 years, 10 months ago

This game will go down to the wire.....And the home crowd comes alive, fueling Kansas to it's 70th home court win

wrwlumpy 11 years, 10 months ago

From Jason King at Rival's.com... This should make the Brady hater's head explode!

WHO’S HOT?

Toney McCray, Nebraska – The Cornhuskers 6-foot-6 wing is averaging just 7.2 points on the season, but he’s been red-hot in Big 12 play with a 14-point scoring mark. McCray – who missed last season with an injury – and junior college transfer Caleb Walker are making a huge difference for a Nebraska squad that has a legitimate chance of earning an NCAA tournament berth.

Brady Morningstar’s defense – The Kansas senior guard may not contribute much when it comes to points and rebounds, but in terms of shutting down an opposing team’s top player, he’s one of the Big 12’s best. Just ask Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn. The conference’s leading scorer could hardly get a shot off while being guarded by the pesky Morningstar on Monday. Dunn entered the game averaging 4.2 3-pointers per contest. But Monday he didn’t connect from long range until only 30 seconds remained in final half.

Jamie Vanderbeken, Iowa State – In his last three games the Cyclones senior has gone 17-of-29 from 3-point range. Vanderbeken is averaging 20 points during that span. At 6-foot-11, Vanderbeken’s size makes him a difficult matchup for a big man trying to guard him on the perimeter.

VancouverJHawkr 11 years, 10 months ago

What about Travis Releford? Is he too slow or injured to guard Hamilton? Although I don't think he'll start, I suspect he might see some time on Hamilton.

The other way to go for short stretches might be to have both twins plus Robinson on the floor at one time - then Marcus could take a shot at guarding him and we'd still have two strong interior defenders.

But I don't think Self will change the starters just for this and so I suspect we'll see either Taylor or Reed on Hamilton to start, and then if it starts looking bad try Marcus or Releford or Little or Brady on him - in some combination.

Matt Bowers 11 years, 10 months ago

I agree with Little. Little has been the silent assassin all year coming off the bench. If Travis is healthy enough to give it a go, then it is probably his spot. Probably see those two and Brady. I'm personally a Brady supporter, being from Lawrence I know how big the dream is to play at KU. Bottom line is that HCBS is going to put KU in a position to win.

Rock Chalk

David Lara 11 years, 10 months ago

Agreed that Coach Self has enough faith in his starters to use them until they are no longer able to handle the matchup. Reed may give up a few inches, but he'll be able to do enough against Hamilton to keep him in check on the perimeter. Probably won't go bigger against him until he starts hitting long range over Reed or Taylor. Then Releford would be my next guess. Either way, they are good, but I like how we matchup. I just hope the twins hear nothing but how we are going to lose for the first time this season and fall short of our 70 home court winning streak, yada yada yada. Whatever it takes to get them to do what they did against Baylor.

lama 11 years, 10 months ago

Tyshawn did a much better job the other night on Dunn than Brady. Brady can't stay with Hamilton -- need a healthy Releford.

Alohahawk 11 years, 10 months ago

Off subject: Rivals.com has an excellent article on Perry Ellis - His recruitment, demeanor on and off the court, school grades, Etc. Sounds like a perfect fit for Coach Self and the Jayhawks.

Alohahawk 11 years, 10 months ago

On the Rivals home page link, click on "recruiting" to get to the Ellis article.

Alohahawk 11 years, 10 months ago

As for Texas, I predicted a while back that they were much more a "team" this year and that they have become our arch rival in recent years. This game could very well decide who wins the Big 12 this go around. My biased opinion is that the Hawks will win. HCBS has the better mindset, Texas has more five stars, as usual, and it will be a matchup nightmare, as was pointed out in the article. We have to be hot on our threes and hit a good percentage of our freethrows to win. Guards must stay focused and not be turnover prone.

One game at a time, Hawks, and make this a 40 minute one. RCJHGKU!!!!

kthawk 11 years, 10 months ago

Aloha, You are exactly right. Our true rival over these last many years has been Texas. No other school in the big 12 has had the players or the gravitas to come close to challenging Kansas. With that being said, they seem to have competition block when it comes to the hawks. They get all ditsy and unravel. This of course, is a function of coaching. There is no doubt that the effective margin of victory over these last few years has been a result of the coaching deficiency that plagues Texas.

Texas goes all soft and spacey when they play Kansas because their coach has yet to ascend to the upper echelons of division 1 coaching craftiness. If Barnes ever arrives as a coach, watch out...they will be a perpetual powerhouse.

hawk_of_ages 11 years, 10 months ago

I was actually disappointed with Texas's flameout last year. Early in the season they looked like a juggernaut on par with the 'Hawks, and everyone in the country was looking forward to the matchup -- except that by the time the two teams actually met, the 'Horns had fallen down a rabbit hole and could barely muster a fight even on their home floor. Glad we won, but it was so ho-hum.

That overtime K-State game sort of made up for it, I guess.

These 'Horns, however, look like they have their heads on straight. I expect a real fight tomorrow.

ohmixmaster 11 years, 10 months ago

I disagree with several posters here when they describe Barnes as being a below average coach. I, for one, think Rick Barnes as an outstanding coach. With the exception of last year's Texas team which was plagued with injuries, his teams have always looked good, and have made some serious dents not only in the Big 12 but in the tourney as well. Again with the exception of last year, KU - Texas games have been a blast to watch and I look forward to them each season. From the Durant/Augustine team back to Roy's last 2 seasons (remember those with the OT, and Dukie Vitale giving a standing ovation to Collison), KU - Texas games are what College Basketball should be about. Exciting, hard fought games between two schools who really leave it all on the floor while respecting each other. Its turned into a fun competitive rival not like Missouri where they really don't like each other and it shows, but one built on respect and pure competition. Before Barnes arrived on the scene KU - Texas games weren't all that exciting. I like the guy and think he is an outstanding coach. I'm looking forward to Saturday's game, and hope its another classic (where we com out on top of course....RCJH).

slowplay 11 years, 10 months ago

KU may have some problems matching up with Hamilton, although Taylor's length and quickness should be sufficient. I see more of problem with Texas matching up with the Morris twins in the post. Thompson may be a shot blocker but he will be defending one of the twins at the elbows and even at the arc. Johnson will have to guard the other twin on the low block. Man for man, KU is better. Look for a spread offense with Selby and Taylor driving, the twins shooting from 10-15 feet and quick ball rotation to eliminate the weak side help. KU 88, Texas 76.

For what it's worth, I think TA&M is/was the most overrated team in the country but Texas will be the toughest opponent to date for KU.

RyanKCMO 11 years, 10 months ago

I've relented somewhat and admit Morningstar can offer some good things in games vs. teams like ISU, especially in short bursts to calm the team when guys are a little too sped up, etc.

But if anyone thinks he played well, especially on defense against Dunn on Monday, we weren't watching the same game. According to reports Dunn was sick. But even that being the case, Taylor guarded him great for most of the night while Brady got smoked several times and committed 3 of his 4 fouls in the process of getting beat.

They're all our guys, so we shouldn't bag on them too much or pit one against the other all the time, but the delusion among some in Jayhawk Nation that Morningstar is a shutdown defender against top tier guys, that's pretty rich if you ask me.

I'd say Releford would be 1st choice against Hamilton. If he can't go, Taylor-who did block Anthony Jones once-or McMorris. Maybe Selby if he's guarding Balbay who won't shoot much outside can sag off to help too?

hawk_of_ages 11 years, 10 months ago

Brady got "smoked" exactly once as far as I could tell. Foul calls are inevitable on the road against a player of Dunn's caliber. His defensive prowess against "top-tier" guys is the exact opposite of a "delusion." It's a proven fact, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. See for example: Budinger, Chase or Abrams, A.J.

You're right about one thing: TT did a good job on D as well, maybe better than Brady.

PhogAdvisory 11 years, 10 months ago

Well I wasn't worried about Saturday's game until I read this article! Good reporting, though. I tried to watch the A&M/Texas game but it turned into such a rout that I lost interest and flipped to ISU/OSU, so it was good to see a quickie scouting report on ol' Tejas. Makes me a little nervous, but I still think superior coaching + AFH will win the game for us. Our deep bench helps us wear teams down, too.

Either way it's going to be another great basketball game. I always look forward to playing Texas.

Hank Cross 11 years, 10 months ago

Rivals - the same site where "Cow" Chip Brown acted as Josef Goebbels to DeLoss Dodds's Fuhrer during conference realignement,

Yakihawk 11 years, 10 months ago

Doesn't it seem like Gary Johnson has been at UT for about 8 years?

Eric Sorrentino 11 years, 10 months ago

+1. We should compose a starting five of players who have seemingly been with their programs for 10 years. Johnson and Josh Carter have to be on there. Perhaps Bryan Davis of Texas A&M, too. Other suggestions welcome.

PhogAdvisory 11 years, 10 months ago

LaceDarius Dunn.

Also, pretty sure Morningstar actually has been with the program for 10 years.

Michael Leiker 11 years, 10 months ago

The all time Big XII of Big 8 champion in my mind was JC Holloway, KS kid PG at ISU. Started all 4 and seemed like he was there forever

Steve Kubler 11 years, 10 months ago

What do you all think of the three big lineup with the Morii and Trob? I can not decide how that would deal with Texas?

Doug LeMoine 11 years, 10 months ago

I think that works against a big (but not necessarily fast) team like Nebraska, but I'm not as sure against a long, lean, fast team like Texas. TRob wouldn't be able to handle Hamilton on the perimeter, and I'm not sure that either of the Morii would. My two cents: The best bet is Releford, and I would not be surprised at all if he (or Brady) started instead of Selby or Tyshawn. Could be Selby's first game at the point, actually.

Jacobpaul81 11 years, 10 months ago

At 6-7, Hamilton appears too tall for starting KU guards Tyshawn Taylor (6-3), Tyrel Reed (6-3) or Josh Selby (6-2).

  • Little or Releford are likely to draw Hamilton duty. Bill has clearly stated that they will rotate players in and out up to 10 deep in order to play defense. That 3 spot is clearly a Releford/Little responsibility.

crazyhawksfan 11 years, 10 months ago

I think Brady should/will guard Hamilton. He did an outstanding job against Dunn and he is obviously 1 of are best defenders. Prediction-- KU by 15

jayhawktalk 11 years, 10 months ago

Although I agree Little and Releford (100% healthy, not 70-75%) may be the best options to guard Hamilton, or at least two of the better options once he has the ball, I would guard Hamilton by [trying to] limiting his touches, which mitigates some of the size difference when looking at KU's typical guard rotation w/Releford out; easier said than done, I know, but it should be a goal. You only have to keep someone busting his backside to stay in the passing lanes to discourage teammates from throwing the ball his way. Balbay being a total liability from a scoring perspective only helps the cause when looking at limiting other UT players' scoring opportunities and/or help side opportunities.

Michael Leiker 11 years, 10 months ago

1st real test of the season for KU. UT scares me quite a bit, they do a lot of things well.

I agree w/Releford on Hamilton as much as possible. He's done a great job of keeping the ball out of people's hands all year, closes out well and is one of KUs best on ball defenders. Even at 75% I would think he is the best option. Brady to spell him.

justinryman 11 years, 10 months ago

The one thing that hasn't changed...Rick Barnes still couldn't coach his way out of a wet paper bag. he gets by on the talent that Texas gets, not because of his coaching ability. so all it will take is for a few of the payers to think they are "the team": and they will crumble apart faster than a dried up piece of bread.

Greg Lux 11 years, 10 months ago

The key to this game is 2 players not trying to do too much. If they let the game come to them we will be fine. It they try and equal the Baylor numbers we will struggle. Yes, the twins, they are going to have to play within themselves, if they do we stand a great chance to win this game by 10 or more points. The key for KU is in Josh's hands .. if he can break down the defense and cause help then the other players will get looks and score much easier. If Josh has a come out game driving the ball we will do great. So I look for a freshman from Baltimore to be the Hawk to Rock tomorrow. Lastly we must BLOCK OUT on defense and stop letting players push us under the basket and get easy put backs.

Rock Chalk

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